The Fame Fetish Fades
Jordan E. Rosenfeld
After many long years of lusting after fame as a writer, I’m finally taking a look at exactly why I would ever want such a thing. I’m not sure where I ever got the idea that writing a book could translate to the luxury and privilege that only high denizens of our culture ever seem to earn, but somehow as a little girl that idea came in like dust on a hot breeze and fastened itself inside my brain. It’s likely the fault of TV that those seeds were planted, because who gets famous in this culture? That’s easy, right? Movie/TV stars, athletes, and girls who flash their boobs at anonymous cameramen (or maybe the latter is infamy, a topic for another day).
When you think of fame—the kind that engenders sycophancy and fan clubs—you don’t really think of writers do you? Oh I know, you’re raising your hand impatiently shouting: “Hello! Stephen King! JK Rowling!” I’m sorry—do you think the paparazzi follow Mr. King to the pharmacy or the mall (were he actually to go to a mall)? Do you think he regularly must hire bodyguards to prowl the grounds of his estate in order to keep stalkers from finding out what color his underwear are? Now I’ll admit Ms. Rowling is quite lovely and photogenic, and that Harry maniacs probably do accost her from time to time, but pleasantly—in a demure English manner—but in both cases these are the uber-famous of scribes. Their scenarios don’t quite count because the odds are simply against the average writer. I am pretty sure that most Pulitzer and Booker-prize winning authors can pass into a crowd completely unrecognized.
But there’s another kind of fame that writers often attract. Famed snobbery. These are the writers who are SO much smarter than everyone else; SO much more steeped in deep literary history than you and frankly have won so many prizes and fellowships and scholarships that it’s hard to see how any are left. That’s a kind of fame I am simply never going to achieve because I’m just not ambitious or intelligent enough. These are the people I am slightly in awe of, mostly afraid of, and who, I fear, often keep that sharp line of division firmly carved between “high” and “low” literature, a line that in many cases is utterly arbitrary.
I prefer what I think of as an old-fashioned concept of fame. People have heard your name. They have heard your name in a positive light and are therefore inclined to purchase your books. Or even better, they’ve heard about your book—your book is famous, and they catch up to finding out about you after the fact. That kind of fame doesn’t come with crowds parting in a sea of red roses; it doesn’t involve limousines dropping you off at gala events where you trade air kisses with other designer-clad famous people; it also, I’m told, doesn’t even necessarily last, and if you’re lucky enough to be known and read for a short time, a couple of years, then that’s really something, something you can feel proud of and probably grateful for—at least you don’t have to hire bodyguards.
This is what I tell myself as the odds of my own fame diminish slightly every year. Good reasons for writing are, in my book, as follows: writing because it fills you with joy or provides context to your complex feelings, or makes you feel privileged to be privy to these wild and spontaneous leaps of creativity. The best reason I have for writing these days is because it gives me pleasure and meaning, and maybe, hopefully has the chance to do the same for a few of you, too.